Pre Islamic Period

Ancient Civilizations in Iran

The archeologists have discovered many vivid traces of pre-historical and historical civilization in Iran Plateau. Some of the famous instances of these civilizations are in Marvdasht Plain, Sialk Hills, Jiroft, Shahr-e Soukhteh(the burnt city) and Lorestan.

Tappeh Sialk(Sialk Hill)

Tappeh Sialk is the name of one of the oldest Iranian civilizations in Kashan province in the east-central part of Iran. The oldest traces of civilization in this place date back to around 6000 years BC; however, there are historical monuments of the 2900 BC.

Probably the civilization in this place started because of the abundant water of the rivers passing nearby. In the site, you can see the skeletons that date back to 5500 years ago, but the most clearly historical remain in Tappeh Sialk is the three story ziggurat belonging to the Elamite period built in 2900 BC. Although the ziggurat is not very well protected and is not in good conditions it is still quite fascinating and worth a visit.

Jiroft Civilization

Jiroft civilization is a historical site, excavated recently in Sistan province. According to the archaeological investigations, this civilization dates back to the 3rd millennium BC.

In the year 2003, by the excavations that were done in Sistan province, near Halil Rud area( Halil River), the Iranian and foreign archaeologists found several objects and potteries in two archaeological mounds named as Konar Sandal A and B and are believed to belong to an ancient civilization of the 3rd millennium BC that might be the lost Arrati civilization mentioned in Greek historical record. Moreover, in Konar Sandal B they have found an ancient two-story citadel.

This civilization has been located between Elam and Indus river civilizations and their artifacts have kind of intercultural style; a combination of those of Mesopotamians and Iranians. The area is still under excavation.

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The Elamites

The Elamite is the name of a race other than the Aryans who lived in the west and southwest of Iran and their history dates back to about 5000 years ago. There are three history periods related to the Elamites.

The first traces of the Elamites were found around the year 2700 BC by the establishment of Avan dynasty in the southwest of Iran. Their homeland was named Elam with the capital of Susa which is in today Khuzestan province. This period lasted until 1600.

The middle Elamite period started with the dynasty of Anshanite around 1500 B.C. But with the invasion of Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king, the Elamites totally lost their power in 1100 B.C.

The neo-Elamite era begins right after the middle Elamite though very little is known about the beginning of this period and it continued until 646 B.C when the Ashurbanipal, the Assyrian king invaded Susa and got hold of Susa and the Elamites and for about 150 years Susa and the lands around were ruled by the Assyrians.

The most important monument remaining from the time of Elamite is Choghazanbil Ziggurat which had been the temple for the Elamite god, In-Shushinak.

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The Median

Median empire is the first organized government in Iran that was established around 708BC by Diocese. The capital of the empire was Ecbatana (today Hamedan) in the west of Iran which was later used as the summer center of the Achaemenid kings.

When the Assyrian kings conquered Susa, the Elamite capital, they tried to rule over other tribes of Iran including the Medians.

Later, Cyaxares together with the Babylonian king attacked Assyria and put an end to their empire. The medians were of great power in Iran and ruled western, southern and central parts of Iran and even the Persians who later founded the Achaemenid Empire were under their control.

The grandson of Astiages, the last Median king, was named Cyrus who was then king of Anshan. He gradually increased his power and in 559 BC the Median Empire was ended by Cyrus the great, the Achaemenid.

One of the famous Median monuments is the stone lion (Shir-e-Sangi) in Hamedan and several rock-carved tombs.

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Achaemenid Empire

The first and the greatest Persian empire in the world was the Achaemenid empire, founded in 550 BC by Cyrus the great, the grandson of the last Median king, Astyages.The territory of this empire extended from North Africa in the west to India in the east and from Jaxartes River in the north to the Persian Gulf in the south.

They had several capitals in Iran such as Ecbatana, Susa, Pasargadae and Persepolis (the ceremonial center) the remnants of which is the most important and the most magnificent historical site in Iran, registered by UNESCO and of course, the main destination for all tourists.

As Cyrus, the great was Persian on the father’s side and Median on the mother’s side, he founded the Achaemenid Empire based on the unity of the Persians and the Medians while all other races and nationalities were accepted and respected as well. The empire was based on tolerance and freedom of races and religions.

When Cyrus the great founded the Achaemenid Empire, he started the construction of Pasargadae on a fertile and green land, as his capital and ordered the construction of a complex of palaces including the private palaces and audience halls. Today the ruins of Pasargadae in Fars province are registered by UNESCO as a world cultural heritage site. After Cyrus the great his elder son, Cambyses ascended the throne and ruled over Iran for a short while. He conquered Egypt and either died or got killed on the way back to Persia (Iran).

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The Seleucids

The only Greek dynasty in Iran was the Seleucid dynasty, who ruled Iran for about 80 years. In the year 330 BC Alexander the Macedonian attacked Persia and by the escape of the Persian king, Darius III, he got hold of the whole Achaemenid kingdom.

After the death of Alexander, one of his generals named Seleucus I established the Seleucid dynasty. Since then until 248 Iran was ruled by the Greeks and hence the influence of the Greek art, language and philosophy on Persia and Persians. During these 80 years great cultural exchanges took place and Buddhism was brought into Iran from India while Zoroastrianism influenced western Judaism.

There are not many remains from the Greeks in Iran, but a clear trace of the Seleucids in Iran is the rare Greek statue of Hercules in Bisetun, Kermanshah province.

The dynasty came to an end by the victory of the Parthians which were another group of the Aryan (Iranian) race.

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The Parthians (Ashkanian)

The second Iranian Dynasty was the Parthian Empire that ruled Iran and neighboring countries for about 5 centuries (248BC-224A.D). Not much has remained of this dynasty in Iran but two of the most important sites are Khwajeh Mountain and Kangavar Temple.

The Parthians were a group of Aryans who immigrated to the plateau of Iran and made a small independent unity. Gradually, the Parthian achieved more power. The first Parthian king was named Arsaces I and he started conquering the whole Parthia that was then ruled by the Seleucids. Arsaces and his successors still had to pay tribute to the Seleucid king until 188 B.C when Mithradates another Parthian king, started venturing further east and west and even conquered Seleucia, the capital of the Seleucids. So by this time, the kingdom further included Media, Elam, Babylon and Assyria. As the territory was so vast and a mixture of different nations and cultures, the empire had to respect their priorities in order to survive, hence the great influence of the Greeks on Parthian.

The Parthian had many wars with the Romans, but none could totally defeat the other until 110 AD when the Roman emperor, Trajan, attacked and occupied some parts of the Parthian territory and this was the demonstration of the relative superiority of the Romans over the Parthians. Although Parthians survived this defeat and recovered parts of the lost territories, they were attacked again by the Romans in 198 AD

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The Sassanid

The second Persian empire, was founded in the year 224 AD by Ardeshir papakan, who named the empire as Sassanid after the name of his ancestor, Sassan. The Sassanid was a great empire with a wide territory that ruled Iran, Armenia, Iraq and many other countries until 650s when the Arab conquest put an end to Iranian empires.

Ardeshir Papakan defeated Artabanus V, the last Arsacid (Parthian) king, and founded the Sassanid Empire which was a pure Iranian dynasty who knew themselves as the heirs of the Achaemenids and so they removed all Greek influences.

They were very strict Zoroastrians and the king was considered the representative of god on earth as is seen in a great number of Sasanian bas-reliefs in Fars province where the god is giving kind of divine permit to the king by giving him a ring of kingship.

All during the reign of Sassanid, there were continuous wars with Romans, shown in most of Sasanian bas-reliefs. Even three of the roman kings were captured by Shapur I in these wars.

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